Recently, a group of folks have been sitting down and having a discussion. It started with an off-hand comment I made in a column a few months ago where I voiced the belief that reasonable Democrats and Republicans could sit down and find that we have many more things in common than we have different.
Sally White took me up on the offer and said, effectively, “put up or shut up.” So, we did.
Our little group contains folks from across the political spectrum — conservative, liberal and moderate. The one thing we all must share, however, is that we must be open to new ideas and listen politely to other points of view.
I think that is what seems to be missing from so much of our conversation today. We would rather scream and insult people with differing views. The “gotcha” comment is now the desired outcome of our discourse.
In a small way, we are hoping to change that.
A key in all of this is face-to-face communication. Sure, it’s easy to insult someone when you can hide behind the anonymity of the internet but its much tougher when you have to do it directly.
I sometimes wonder if our children are losing the ability to be civil and polite when most of their interaction is electronic?
Our first topic was a hot one- homelessness. Conservatives think that liberals want to coddle the homeless and further exacerbate their problems. Liberals think conservatives are heartless and want to throw all the homeless in jail. And moderates think everyone else is crazy.
Perceptions often die hard.
Amazingly, I think the thesis that Sally and I are testing is true. When we got together, these perceptions melted away and we had far more agreement than dissension.
We all agreed that homelessness was undesirable and that we need to do something about it. Conservatives are not cold-hearted and uncaring. But liberals don’t want to give away the farm. And all of us want to understand why this is happening.
For example, I was surprised that some of us felt that criminalization may be a good avenue to pursue in helping the homeless. Not to throw them in jail but to force a resolution through social workers, aid, assistance, and a pathway to a better life. The resolution must be mandatory.
Criminalization would also give tools to law enforcement to clean up dangerous situations and environments that could lead to violence and disease.
For many of the homeless, there is a desire to perpetuate a “camping” lifestyle where they can socialize with friends and live life without rules. In a civilized society, that does not work. Living closely with other humans requires social order and not anarchy.
Another striking aspect of our discussion is the “culture” issue. Today, we seem to accept homelessness as a normal part of life. We see it every day so we no longer think of it as odd or unacceptable.
We also talked about the racial component. Most homeless are white, black, or Hispanic. You can’t find too many Asian homeless. Why is that? We kicked around the idea that maybe in Asian cultures, families do not allow family members to be homeless.
That got me thinking. When that crazy brother that we have had pushed our buttons one too many times, how easy was it for us to simply kick them out of the house? Or, if our aunt has a drug problem and we didn’t want it around our kids, out she goes?
In creating an infrastructure that supports homelessness, do we degrade the willingness of families to deal with wayward relatives?
Maybe part of the solution that we need to consider (and I have not seen this yet in any of the new initiatives being discussed) is attempting to change the culture of families back to caring for at-risk family members?
Another concept that I think we can gain consensus around is that our programs must be effective. I told a homelessness staffer a couple weeks ago that his goal should be to work himself out of a job. He looked at me like I was crazy.
The goal should not be to build a massive homelessness bureaucratic machine. We must assess the problem, build strategies, monitor the success rate, correct the course where needed, then shut down parts or all of the system once suitable levels of homelessness are attained. This seems reasonable.
Did we agree on everything during our discussion? Of course not. But, we found common ground and were able to share ideas that helped us all grow. Conservatives, liberals, and moderates have more in common than we realize.
Steve Lunetta is a resident of Santa Clarita and is very excited about further discussions with his liberal friends! Interested? He can be reached at email@example.com.